By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
It took a year and a half, but his day finally came.
Nerves set in just a little bit, but the 6-foot-2 guard from the country of Georgia kept shooting.
Otar Pkhakadze has sat on the bench since last season, watching his teammates win and wishing he could help them when they lost.
“Every loss I went back home and I couldn’t go to sleep. It sucked because I couldn’t help them,” he said of the previous season. “It’s really, really upsetting when you sit on the bench and you want to help them but you can’t do it. It’s really hard.”
Last night, in Fairmont State’s 114-48 romp over Ohio-Eastern, Pkhakadze was able to celebrate for the first time with his name on the stat sheet.
“Last night I didn’t get any sleep,” Pkhakadze said with a smile after the game. “I got about three hours of sleep. I couldnt wait. I was like, three hours, two hours, and when I touched the ball the first time, my heart was going crazy. After I touched it, I dribbled and everything calmed down. I was just excited to play.”
Pkhakadze was ineligible to play the first half of the season, but head coach Jerrod Calhoun wanted to get him on the court as soon as he could.
With a lesser opponent like Ohio-Eastern coming to town, it was the perfect opportunity.
“Tonight was really about getting Otar and Tommy Scales back,” Calhoun said after the game. “It gives us a few more bodies.”
The true freshman guard received the start on a night where Calhoun put the emphasis on the depth of the team.
Pkhakadze finished the game with 10 points, all of which he scored in the first half, on 3-of-9 shooting, hitting two from deep. He also added four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
He put together a complete game in his team-leading 26 minutes on the court, but Calhoun expected nothing less.
“You can’t simulate officials. You can’t simulate the crowd,” Calhoun said. “(Pkhakadze’s) been practicing here for a year and a half now. He’s a good player. He’s very skilled. He has some European exposure over there in Georgia. He played for his country, which is a great honor for him. He’s going to get better and better.”
The playing time, Calhoun said, was very beneficial for the young guys like Pkhakadze.
“We wanted to sub five in, five out every five minutes,” Calhoun said of the gameplan. “Otar played 26 minutes, Shamm (Wells) played 26, but for the most part, everyone played about 15 to 17. We knew we were going to balance the minutes out tonight.”
With Pkhakadze getting the brunt of the work tonight, he feels that it was very helpful in getting him back to game speed.
“I needed to get back in a game,” Pkhakadze said. “I had to sit out a year and a half. I mean I played this summer on my national team, but still, these fans, I’ve been watching them for a year and a half and how they root for our team. I needed to get out there.”
Even when a couple of his three-point shots rimmed in and out, the young guard kept shooting, unphased by the misses.
“I needed to get in a rhythm, which I did today. That was why I was a couple shots off, but it really got me in a rhythm and I need to get ready for Thursday,” he said.
Thursday brings the real test for Pkhakadze and the rest of the Falcon team as they host No. 2 Bellarmine at Joe Retton Arena.
Pkhakadze says he’ll be ready, though.
“(The Bellarmine game) is exactly why you play college basketball,” he said. “(Coach Calhoun) is expecting us to play hard, play defense and play as a team.”
With guard Ke’Chaun Lewis possibly missing Thursday’s game with an injury, Pkhakadze could see a good deal of minutes in the team’s biggest matchup so far this season.
Welcome to college basketball, young man.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.